#1142 – Entertainment Securing the Brand

Rundown of trade and entertainment developments that took place after IAAPA-EMEA’22, and the rush to promote the latest developments and licensing opportunities in the digital landscape continued apace. Along with the Tokyo gaming convention, we see the licensing sector in Europe show its attraction colours and much more.  

Tokyo Game Show 2022 (TGS’22)

The Japanese major consumer gaming event took pride of place in the territory, coming to terms with physical events once again, and the leading consumer game studios and console hardware manufacturers invested heavily on major publicity, promotion, and spectacle. A return to physical events seemed popular with the gaming audience, though active COVID measures were very much in evidence.

One of those who took the event as a starting gun for their latest investment into the VR space was SONY Interactive Entertainment (SIE). The company had, a few days previously, held special media previews internationally, to consumer media and social media influencers, of their brand-new Playstation VR 2 platform. This was to reveal the final production version of the VR headset and controllers – a system embracing many advancements, such as Foveated Rendering (FR) and 4K resolution. The company also broke the news that the system would not be backward-compatible with their 6m selling original PSVR, due to the technical advancements, but the company is working on an extensive library of AAA game titles for the new system.

Following the SONY media preview, the public got their first chance to try the system during TGS’22 – with CAPCOM showing a demonstration of their ‘Resident Evil Village’ (‘Village Biohazard’) on the PSVR2 hardware. Showing off the visuals of the CERO: Z rated game in Japan, long queue lines formed for the chance to try out the new hardware and game. Again, representatives of SONY confirmed that the VR hardware will be launching internationally for “early 2023” – With sources suggesting that the official pricing and launch of the machine will be for the end of 2022. 

Another big push in VR was from PICO – following their appearance at Gamescom’22, the company has their ‘PICO Neo 3 Link’ on display on their own booth, showing the increased investment from the corporation in readiness for the launch of their ‘PICO NEO 4’ hardware that was revealed days after. The new system, with a 4K pancake display and smaller form factor than its competition, was focused on European shores, with no news of their North American sales plans yet. The Chinese-owned company is focusing on Home Territory and European audiences before their next announcements. And as we were about to go to the wire, it was revealed that an Eye-Tracking upgrade would be available for the system, including FR support. 

Next door to PICO at TGS’22 was their biggest competitor. While missing out on Gamescom’22, Meta did make a serious appearance at Tokyo show with one of the biggest booths at the event (and in their history). Several areas of the massive show presence promoted latest exclusives, along with the promotion of ‘Among Us VR’, the hugely popular ‘find the suspect’ game

This promotional effort of the ‘Meta Quest’ (as the product is branded in Japan) VR headset platform to the Japanese consumer base, marks the biggest push by the corporation to this territory. This had two hurdles to navigate, with Meta needing to establish a presence in the territory, but also the recent price hike in the Meta Quest 2 hardware had been hard felt in the Japanese market, increasing some 20,000 yen in some cases. 

Marketing promotion has included the opening of several ‘Meta Quest’ pop-up stores. Such as that opened at the ‘ZeroBase Shibuya’ location in Tokyo. Opened for a few weeks, the venues emulated nothing more than a VR arcade presentation of the VR platform from Meta, with demonstration stations for players to try out various popular VR games on the headset. The striking similarity of this promotional pop-up and the existing VR arcade business, that Meta has been less than enthusiastic to support, was not lost on the trade. 

It was revealed that French game developer Microids had licensed the classic 1987 arcade shooter ‘Operation Wolf’ from TAITO. The company revealed that they were working on a VR version of the rail shooter that would be launched as a Meta Quest 2 consumer VR version in 2023. This would be the latest classic arcade game title to be licensed as a consumer VR release, as with the aborted ‘Metal Slug VR’ projective between SNK and Studio Roqovan. At this time, there are no plans for this latest VR game to be released into the amusement market.

Back at TGS’22, all the major Japanese publishers and studios gave public and private presentations for their 2023 lineup and investment plans. SEGA was in evidence and had a giant statue of ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ on their booth. Other familiar developers, such as KONAMI, showed a crowded booth that also pointed to their eSports investments. While talk of the “Metaverse” was slightly muted, there was still the chance to jump into VR, with the show organizers operating ‘Tokyo Game Show 2022 VR’ – a specially created online app that allowed the virtual navigation of the show exhibitors in VR, for those not able to attend physically. 

The 2022 TGS basked in a return to physicality, and this was reflected in the attendance numbers, with 605 exhibitors attracting some 138,192 visitors over the days of the event. Although this still was far short of the 298,690 record 2018 attendance. The organizers announced that the 2023 event will take place between 21-24 September. 

Brand Licensing Europe (BLE’22)

In London, hot on the heels of showing the week previously at the IAAPA-EMEA’22 attractions and theme park exhibition, we jump forward to Rainbow Productions, populating the BLE’22 show floor, and supplying the UK with over 140 custom-made mascots and licensed characters. The licensing show, this year, even held a fashion show style catwalk for the promotion of new mascots to the attendees. This was one of the more direct comparisons between the symbiotic nature of themed entertainment business, and the licensing and brand sector. 

The importance of licensed brands in the theme park and waterpark sector was underlined with the news that BLE’22 exhibitor, SONY Pictures Entertainment, revealed their plans to open, in October, a theme and waterpark in Thailand, in partnership with Amazon Falls Co. Under the name ‘Columbia Pictures’ Aquaverse’, the park will include several attractions and theming based on Sony-owned Columbia Pictures properties including ‘Jumanji’, ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Hotel Transylvania’. In a statement from the Vice President of Sony Pictures, the corporation stated that this project was the next step in the company’s global strategy to grow and expand location-based entertainment, by utilizing its globally known film and TV brands.

Acquisitions and mergers also played their part in the brand and licensing scene, with the news that Secret Cinema, known for their immersive live performance experiences based on licensed properties from studios like Universal, Paramount, Lionsgate, SONY, Netflix, and Disney, had been acquired by TodayTix Group, a global eCommerce operation, for an undisclosed sum. The merger will see the continuation of the brand work, but with the eCommerce operation supplying frictionless technology for audience insight and the growth of the immersive event business.

Speaking of Universal, who were also exhibiting on the BLE’22 show floor, news was breaking that amplified other announcements. NBCUniversal revealed that the Universal Brand Development group, along with their sister division Universal Parks & Resorts Merchandising Group, will be merging into a new operation, to be named Universal Products & Experiences (UP&E). This is the first time that a major game, movie, theme park and brand company has looked at the terminology of “Experiences” in their offering, and marks a momentous moment in branding and licensing history. This will impact the products, licensing, and franchising from the operation’s various divisions, including Universal Pictures, Universal Studios, Universal Parks & Resorts and NBCUniversal Television – with investment into immersive experiences (and attractions), merchandising and toys/games, based on IP from across the operation.  

An example of the previous investment by the Universal branding team was actually evident a stone’s throw away from the BLE’22 event. Held in the same London convention center was the ‘Jurassic World: The Exhibition’ – a temporary installation involving props and animatronics from the blockbuster movie. This is an example of the temporary traveling exhibitions and immersive entertainment being deployed, that marry big brand IP with the skill set of themed entertainment attractions. 

London is seeing an explosion in live experiences based on media properties from streamed TV and movies. This has included the ‘Saw: The Experience’, based on the Lionsgate movie IP, developed in partnership with Twisted Pictures and
production company Path Entertainment Group, with the first example opening in London during October. Other media properties, such as ‘Tomb Raider’, have also been turned into live experiences that opened this year in Camden, London. As well as the smash hit Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things: The Experience’ opening to rave reviews in the Capital.

Concerning other big IP getting its latest public offering, there is also the ‘The Wizarding World’, based on the ‘Harry Potter’ IP from Warner Bros., creating several traveling experiences developed by Imagine Exhibitions. Along with the ‘Harry Potter: Magic at Play’, an interactive attraction, a “Quidditch” skills training games  saw its first stop at Chicago. Also, the ‘Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience’, a walking attraction, first returning to Cheshire, UK, then will make landfall in New York. NY is already home to a location-based entertainment (LBE) facility based on the property (‘Harry Potter Store New York’), including a virtual reality experience developed in partnership with Dreamscape Immersion, opened last year.

The importance of branding in immersive amusement and attractions has been part of the sector from the start. As seen at IAAPA-EMEA’22, there were examples such as HOLOGATE launching their ‘Ghostbusters’ VR experience, and the Immersive GameBox licensing deal with Netflix, including the ‘Squid Games’ MR experience. Another company with experience in this sphere is Zero Latency, with their over-50 free-roam VR installations. Following on from their recent Ubisoft license with ‘FarCry VR’, the company announced in September that they have signed an agreement with Games Workshop to develop a ‘Warhammer 40,000’ VR experience for their platform. Based on the ‘Space Marine’ characters, the game will be rolled out across venues in 2023. Games Workshop was another exhibitor on the BLE’22 show floor, also basking in other licensing agreement based on their properties. 

BLE’22 was crowded with entertainment media exhibitors from the games sector, with CAPCOM, KONAMI, Ubisoft, Pokemon, BANDAI NAMCO and SEGA all having a strong presence at the exhibition, illustrating the importance that video game IP has in the branding and licensing sector. This is now enhanced by the inclusion of not just toys, branding and merchandising, but also the deployment of immersive experiences in the Out-of-Home sector and, with the launch of Nintendo, SONY, Ubisoft, and other video game based LBE venues, the drive in this sector will only increase. Also marking the use of prominent movie IP in amusement, UK distributor Electrocoin represented the STERN Pinball release ‘James Bond’ – developed in collaboration with property owner EON Productions – at the 60th anniversary event at London’s BFI Southbank for the fictional super spy. A movie-based pintable is expected to be as popular, as seen with the famous ‘Addams Family’.

While speaking of Nintendo, the corporation completed its acquisition of Dynamo Pictures that it announced back in July. The acquisition of the film company’s shares by the Japanese video game corporation, will see the operation that specializes in CGI movies to be rebranded Nintendo Pictures – and the restructured operation will now focus on development of content, utilizing Nintendo IP. The implementation of movies and game characters has seen some success, especially in the shadow of the sequel to ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ which has seen SEGA elevate videogame characters to a new level of stardom – as Nintendo intends to enter the scene, having dropped the trailer for ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’, in partnership with Universal, during October, to millions of likes.

IATPA Tradeshow / AAMA Gala

A crowded end to September with the International Adventure & Trampoline Parks Association (IATPA) Conference and Tradeshow was held in Nashville, while the American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA) Annual Meeting & Gala (AAMA Gala’22) was held in Chicago, all days after IAAPA-EMEA’22, with many European exhibitors rushing off to attend their respective events.

The AAMA Gala’22 represents a chance for the US amusement trade to undertake association board activities, including electing new officials, as well as preview new products. This year’s event was held with the theme “A League of Our Own!”, which seemed a little too on the nose, as many in the trade discussed the perceived isolationism of the industry, and near invisibility – even after extensive governmental lobbying.   

Held at The Westin Chicago Lombard hotel, the Gala was broken into board activities, educational sessions, and social events. Then, on the hotel ballroom floor, a selection of distributors and manufacturers showed new product releases to an audience of association members and special operator accounts. Some of the exhibitors included Betson Enterprises, Andamiro USA, STERN Pinball, SEGA Amusement, BANDAI NAMCO Amusement America, Bay Tek, IGPM Distribution, UNIS, and ICE (with the lineup mainly focusing on redemption). The AAMA invited young ambassadors from KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now) USA, the non-profit organisation promoting exercise for children with disabilities, to play on the assembled machines. 

Much of what was on the hotel ballroom floor will be covered in detail in the forthcoming Stinger Report from IAAPA, where more new amusement pieces will be revealed. AAMA Gala is fundamentally a chance for trade association board business, specialized conference sessions, and the support of key members from the amusement distribution sector – along with a chance for high-profile sales account business. Meanwhile, the new machine reveal element was hijacked by the proximity to the IAAPA Orlando mega-show, where most new release info is focused.

In the week of the AAMA Gala, however, there was a major development that the trade association may feel best to ignore. On YouTube, popular poster and investor Mark Rober shared on his channel a video that jolted the complacency of the amusement redemption sector. He showed his audience how many of the popular prize and redemption machines worked, how to scam them, and how some interesting, invented robots could play the machines better than humans. But also, the video fired shots at several machines as scamming players and to be avoided.

By the time of writing this coverage on the video, it has already achieved vial status with a 6m viewership (and rising!). The question has to be how the amusement machine trade association will respond to shots being fired at its members and products. And what defence of the credibility of the amusement venue scene will be posted. Well, at the time of going to the wire, none of the trade associations had commented publicly – a hope to let 6m “sleeping dogs lie” must be the attitude, considering the current conditions, and the dust is still settling over the industry ‘Key Master’ debacle. We will check in on progress with the AAMA team, if we bump into them during IAAPA Orlando in November. 

The amusement scene will be getting its own chance to preview new machine trends, with the holding of the Autumn Coin-Op Show (ACOS) only a matter of weeks after IAAPA-EMEA’22 – and we expect to see some developments and influences by the growth of social entertainment on the traditional trade. Expect a full report from the event and developments in the territory.

About the author

Kevin Williams

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The brainchild of two location-based experience enthusiasts, Christine Buhr and Brandon Willey, the LBX Collective aims to inform and educate, create opportunities to connect with industry peers, and to spur collaboration, discourse, and cross-pollination of ideas.

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